Crackpot Hall

Happy new year! In 2020 I am spending the next six months holed up in my studio making the final prints for my solo show at the Dales Countryside Museum in July. ‘The View from the Fells: In the Footsteps of Marie Hartley’ will be on from 10th July – 4th November 2020 and will feature a new body of work inspired by Marie Hartley’s and Ella Pontefract’s work on the three books ‘Swaledale’, ‘Wensleydale’ & ‘Wharfedale’. I’ve spent a year reprinting Marie’s wood engravings, researching her work and visiting some of the places written about in the books. I’ve got a long list of ideas, some of which probably won’t see the light of day, and I’m now creating new prints that have been inspired by some of the things that I’ve seen. It has been really wonderful to spend time in areas of the Yorkshire Dales that I’ve never visited before and to discover some of the places that Marie loved. The things that I’ve found inspiring have been the chance encounters with wildlife, the way that the land has been shaped by human intervention (meadows, buildings, sheepfolds, drystone walls) and the way the land changes in different weathers and times of day/year. I have also visited specific places referred to in the books with a view to discovering for myself why they stood out for Marie and Ella and to see how much they’ve changed. One of these places is Crackpot Hall which is on the path between Muker and Keld.

IMG_3815

A page from Marie’s sketchbook.

IMG_3833

These pages from Marie’s sketchbook also show the wood engraving that was used as an illustration in ‘Swaledale’

Crackpot Hall gets its name from the Viking word ‘pot’ meaning a deep hole and ‘crack’ the old english word for crow. There is a good online article with photos that can be viewed HERE. It is an eighteenth century hunting lodge which became a farmhouse and was occupied by the Harker family during the 1930s at the time that Ella and Marie were writing ‘Swaledale’.

“The farm-house of Crackpot Hall, gazing defiantly across at Kisdon from its lofty site, arouses one’s curiosity and imagination the moment it is seen from the village of Keld, from East Gill, or from Muker and the hills beyond”

It is indeed a very special place and I first discovered it for myself just before I began research for this project. My husband and I were running a circular route from Muker (along the right hand side of the Swale to Swinner Gill and back via the Kisdon Force and the Pennine way on Kisdon). We came upon the ruins sitting high above the Swale and I was really taken with both its position in the landscape and the fact that so much evidence of the lives of the previous inhabitants remained. There was an old tin bath, the range still has bits of ornate grate lying next to it and shards of patterned pottery unearthed by rabbits lay on the hillside below it.

IMG_1788

When I began the project and discovered Marie’s beautiful wood engraving of it before its dereliction, I knew I’d end up making work about it. I’ve been back repeatedly to Swaledale and the whole area from Muker to Birkdale has become a focus for a large proportion of the work that I’m making. One of the reasons that we have decided to call the exhibition ‘View from the Fells’ is that I am a fellrunner and I often run the routes to gain inspiration. This enables me to cover ground quickly and to get to places that I wouldn’t normally get to when walking. I sometimes take small ‘trods’ as opposed to obvious footpaths which also means that I encounter wildlife that perhaps I would have missed on the main thoroughfares. The beauty of running is that I can work on ideas or solve printmaking conundrums whilst my body is engaged in a physical activity but my mind is able to run free. There is a particular clarity of thought that I get which I don’t have at any other time.

Marie and Ella wrote about how the foundations of the farmhouse had slipped over the years, probably due to the mining in the area, and that “the tops of the doors and windows are all at angles, and the bedroom floors tilt like the rolling deck of a ship”. They focussed much of the chapter on the children of Crackpot Hall and most notably Alice, the youngest child of the Harker family. They wrote about her as the spirit of the moor, mischievous and wild. Years later, David Almond (a children’s book illustrator) went in search of Alice and there is a wonderful Radio 3 programme about her and Crackpot Hall  as well as Marie and Ella’s encounter with her. You can listen to it HERE.

Before Christmas I created a collagraph print inspired by Crackpot Hall. There are 15 separate elements that are printed in layers to create the whole image and I have used drawings of some of the pottery shards and a piece of the range to draw focus to the fact that it was once a home for a succession of farmers and lead miners:

IMG_0509

The printing plates: they are made from cardboard and textured using cutting techniques, polyfilla, gesso and carborundum paste. The small plastic ones are drypoint that I’ve scratched the decorative elements of the pottery into.

IMG_6587

The finished collagraph print.

I have also taken photographs from the spot at which Marie created her sketch for the wood engraving featured in the book. I have the glimmer of an idea of how I might use them to draw from and create a layered image showing the decline of the house into ruins.

IMG_8825

(NB: As a sidenote, this particular visit was particularly memorable as it resulted in me being in hospital for two days after pushing my way through overgrown bracken and ending up with a 2cm piece of woody stem embedded deep in my leg. The surgeon tried to remove it but couldn’t see it without an ultrasound machine and so it is still in there! Fortunately, it is gradually causing less bother and I think I will just live with it until it either dissolves (if that’s possible) or works its way out. I feel I ought to make this mishap worth the pain by at least creating one bit of work from that view point!)

Sketchbooks and Wood Blocks

At the time that I’m writing this, I’ve just printed the last of the Dales Countryside Museum’s collection of wood engraving blocks created by Marie Hartley MBE. I’ve completed ten public sessions at the museum and met some very interesting people connected by a shared love of the legacy created by Marie, Ella and Joan. Artists, farmers, writers, photographers, people that knew her and people that didn’t (but wish they had). Many had stories to share, brought their own prints by Marie to show me and were pleased to have the opportunity to see her exquisite wood engravings close up. I’m now entering the next phase of the project and I will be continuing my research on her life and work by reading her notebooks and looking at her sketchbooks. I’ve read the three ‘Dales books’: Swaledale, Wensleydale and Wharfedale and have also read her beautiful memoire to Ella Pontefract, ‘Yorkshire Heritage’. Other works that I’m finding particularly useful are ‘Forms and Colours’ (about her artwork); ‘A Favoured Land’ (an appreciation of all of the books with essays); Yorkshire Cottage & The Yorkshire Dales. I’ve also started exploring certain areas which I intend to make my own work about.

IMG_3833

I love this image from Marie’s Swaledale sketchbook. It features a sketch of Crackpot Hall before it became a deserted ruin and the resulting wood engraving. Those combined with the notes, boot and ghostly birds are the distilled essence of the project for me.

I have a full calendar year in which to create my new prints and I intend to make use of that by visiting specific places regularly throughout the year, observing the changes in the landscape and the different flora and fauna. Narrowing down my subject has been extremely difficult and I’m hoping that my research will help with that. I have started by deciding to concentrate on places written about in the three Dales books as these are illustrated by the wood engravings. I’ve then used my research so far to work out places that Marie and Ella repeatedly visited or had a particular love for and I would like to include some locations from each book. As a fellrunner, I am particularly keen for each place to centre around at least one prominent fell. I’m currently visiting:

In Swaledale: Kisdon with the surrounding areas of Muker, Keld, Angram, Thwaite and most probably heading up into Birkdale which was a firm favourite for Marie and Ella. There are some fascinating manmade structures within this area that tell the story of its past mining and farming practises and combined with the rich ecological habitats, it really is a gem of a place that I’ve totally fallen in love with.

IMG_1788

Overlooking Crackpot Hall towards Muker with Kisdon on the right (Oct’18)

In Wensleydale:  Addlebrough from Semerwater with Raydale, Cragdale and Bardale and the moors above Stalling Busk. As the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire (the first being Malham Tarn) being concealed from the main road it is almost a hidden wonder. It is also the source of the river Bain which, at only 2 miles long, is the UK’s shortest river.

IMG_5087

Overlooking the old ruined 18th Century church at Stalling Busk towards Semerwater.

In Wharfedale: Penyghent from Littondale including Foxup. I am delighted that it is included in ‘Wharfedale’ because I have always loved Littondale and Penyghent is my favourite hill which I have explored extensively in all weathers and at all times of day (and night). I can see it from my studio!

IMG_2226

Penyghent viewed on the ascent of Fountains Fell (Nov’18)

I’m also exploring Wether Fell, Dodd Fell & Snaizeholme and I will be settling on more locations as I do more research.

I’m looking for places that have their own special character making them distinctly different from other areas. The fells within each area often rise as singular hills which are easily recognisable from all directions. I also want to look at areas that are noted for their special scientific interest in terms of their flora and fauna. It seems apparent to me that the Yorkshire Dales has changed dramatically since the time that Ella and Marie wrote the books. They captured and recorded a way of life that was on the cusp of changing forever being affected by the technological advances in agriculture, the increased use of cars and tourism. However, what hasn’t changed is the geography of the area and combined with natural processes and human influences, the Yorkshire Dales National Park is home to some of the most diverse wildlife habitats in the UK. I want to explore those and to see how their history is written on the landscape.

In future posts I will be writing about these places and my experiences when working in them, more about Marie and her life and the things that I discover as I continue my research.

 

In the Footsteps of Marie Hartley MBE

Back at the beginning of 2018 I was contacted by Fiona Rosher, Museum Manager at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. The Museum was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the book ‘Life and Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales’ which was written and illustrated by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby who founded the Museum. Within their archives was a collection of 130 wood engraving blocks created by Marie Hartley MBE and Fiona wanted to know if I would be interested in printing them so that they could have a set of prints for use within the museum. This sounded intriguing and what followed was a series of meetings with Fiona where we discussed the possibilities of the project. It soon expanded and developed into one that would culminate in an exhibition of my own work in the summer of 2020. We agreed that I would begin the project by printing the blocks in the museum so that visitors could watch and I could talk to them about their memories of Marie, their experience of the Yorkshire Dales and about printmaking. I would then carry out research about Marie Hartley which would take the form of reading all of her books written in collaboration with Ella Pontefract and Joan Ingleby and I would be given access to the archive of sketchbooks, notebooks and diaries that the museum owned. This would help to form a picture of the woman herself and help me to find an angle for my own work. I would then go out ‘into the field’ to draw, print and develop ideas for a series of brand new works. In other words, a dream of a job!

IMG_5429 (1)

Anyone that knows me will know that I work very hard to make a full-time living as an artist and I am often so embroiled in various exhibitions, shows, teaching workshops, running art groups and the accompanying admin that’s involved in doing those things that I often feel that there is very little time and headspace for making new work. It is one of the reasons that I disappear off to Ålgården Studios for a few weeks every year so that I can have uninterrupted time to develop my printmaking. With that in mind, we realised that I’d need some funding to allow me to take a bit of a step back from other commitments for a while and really make the most of this opportunity. Fiona was brilliant in campaigning for the project and we are so fortunate that the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Friends of the Dales Countryside Museum have provided the necessary support needed. In return, I am printing the blocks within the museum to allow the public to see the process, will be giving a talk to the FoDCM and will be running a number of printmaking workshops at the museum in 2020. I’m also updating the archive records for the wood engravings as I progress through the printing, making notes of any damage and any links to preparatory drawings that I discover in Marie’s sketchbooks.

IMG_3801

Most of the wood engravings that have been published were created for three books that Marie wrote with Ella Pontefract: Wensleydale, Swaledale & Wharfedale. I’ve decided that I will concentrate my own research on those areas of the Yorkshire Dales. I’m a keen fellrunner and my plan is to run some of the routes described in these books, get to know the places and then I will identify particular points of interest that I would like to return to for sketching and printing. I’ve got a tentative plan to take my campervan on some of my excursions and set up my portable press so I can actually print directly in the landscape. I like to feel that it would be in keeping with Marie and Ella’s explorations of Wensleydale carried out in their little caravan that they christened ‘The Green Plover’ (see a sketch of Marie’s now held at the Leeds University Art Collections by clicking here)

IMG_3859

I shall be writing regularly about the project and sharing snippets of research, images printed, anecdotes from the people that I meet and anything else that I find interesting. In the mean time, if you would like to see me printing some of the wood engravings, I will be at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes from 12-4pm on consecutive Tuesdays up to and including the 7th May 2019 (excluding Tuesday 16th April when I’ll be there on the previous Sunday 14th April, 12-4pm). Do come and see how exquisite Marie’s work is and I’d love to hear anecdotes from those that knew her and stories from your experiences of the Yorkshire Dales (please note, museum admission charges apply).